Thursday, September 21, 2023
Thursday, September 21, 2023

Why Ron Johnson’s increasingly weird rhetoric about Covid matters

by admin
Why Ron Johnson’s increasingly weird rhetoric about Covid matters

When Sen. Ron Johnson sat down with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo late last week, the interview began on an unfortunate note. The host boasted about having taken ivermectin to treat Covid in 2020, adding, “and now three years later, the FDA says, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s fine. Take ivermectin.’”

That wasn’t even close to being true. The FDA does not tell the public that ivermectin is a “fine” treatment for Covid because it’s not: The FDA, NIH, World Health Organization, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and even the company that makes ivermectin all agree that the drug is not effective in treating Covid.

Alas, the interview did not improve as the Wisconsin Republican started sharing related thoughts of his own. As The Daily Beast summarized:

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) went on an epic fear-mongering rant on Friday, telling Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo that COVID-19 was “pre-planned” by unnamed elites with the goal of taking away human rights. “This is all pre-planned by an elite group of people,” Johnson said when discussing the pandemic and vaccines with the right-wing TV host, adding that this group wants “to take total control over our lives.”

To be sure, it’s best to keep expectations low when it comes to the GOP senator’s odd theories. Johnson has, after all, cultivated a dreadful record on everything from to the Jan. 6 attack to Russian disinformation to the 2020 presidential election.

But I continue to believe Johnson’s most dangerous rhetoric has focused on Covid and vaccines.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, in mid-March 2020, as the scope of the crisis was just coming into view, the Wisconsin Republican went further than most in downplaying the importance of mitigation efforts. A year later, as vaccines and boosters became available, Johnson — who claims he is not an opponent of vaccines — went to great lengths to discourage Americans from protecting themselves, desperately trying to undermine public confidence in the vaccines.

He’s also the senator who famously suggested that people should use mouthwash as a coronavirus treatment.

I mention all of this for a few reasons. The first, obviously, is that it’s quite odd to see a prominent public official — who actually led the Senate committee responsible for domestic security policy for six long years — claim that Covid was “pre-planned” by a secret group of “elite” people he hasn’t identified. It’s unfortunate when a random crank on Twitter says this to his four followers, but it’s more unsettling when a three-term U.S. senator peddles the line to a national television audience.

What’s more, it’s difficult not to wonder about the impact Johnson’s strange rhetoric might have on those who might be inclined to trust him, unaware of the fact that the far-right Wisconsinite has no idea what he’s talking about.

But let’s also not forget that Johnson has been equally eager of late to share a variety of other ideas. The Republican returned to Fox Business on Tuesday, for example, insisting that he “knows” that there were “all kinds of irregularities” in the 2020 presidential election, adding that his conspiracy theories about the election are “indisputable.”

A day later, Johnson appeared on Newsmax, another conservative outlet, claiming that prosecutors holding Donald Trump accountable for alleged crimes makes the senator feel as if the United States is “like the Soviet Union.”

The rhetoric was, of course, quite bonkers, but for conservative voters unsure what to believe, consider the larger context: The far-right politician telling the public that U.S. officials are trying to “imprison their political opponents” is the same far-right politician who claims Covid was “pre-planned by an elite group of people.”

Credibility, in other words, matters.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”

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